In light of the massive controversy over the goal dubbed variously as the ‘Hand of God II’, ‘Hand of Henry and, most brilliantly and in a rare and surprising moment of genius in The Sun, the ‘Hand of Frog’, the football world is engaged in various discussions regarding replays. Firstly, after an Irish FA appeal should the match itself be replayed in light of the referee’s error? And second, does this incident provide us with a watershed moment that demands the introduction of video replays in football matches?
Today’s post forms the first of a two parter (the second will follow either tomorrow or on Sunday) and looks at the first question; whether or not Ireland have a chance of getting the game replayed and whether or not it would be good for football if it were. I must admit, when sitting down to write this post I thought they had no chance and were being wildly optimistic, but the precedent that they’ve cited makes a reasonably compelling case for them. Any rematch between the sides would be a brutal and viscious affair, but could it and should it happen?
Initially, as I mentioned above, I felt that Ireland’s appeal was an expected and understandable knee-jerk reaction that really had very little hope of achieving anything. After all, this is the sport where if a referee awards a free kick for a gross act of onfield misconduct (such as a viscious elbow to the face for instance) the governing bodies have no power to add further punishment. Indeed, it seemed to me in my role as common fan, that the power given to referees – who are, after all, only human – was too absolute for the good of the sport.
However, when making their appeal to FIFA, Ireland have mentioned an incident from the Asian qualifying process for the last World Cup in Germany, when a match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain was invalidated due to the technical error of the referee, which meant that both legs of the tie were subsequently replayed (I think the incident ocurred in the first leg but the appeal was only deemed successful after the second, but don’t quote me on that).
What happened in this instance is explained in detail here, but can be summarised as follows:
1) At the score of 1-0 in favour of Uzbekistan, in the 39th minute of the match, the referee decided to award a penalty kick to Uzbekistan;
2) The penalty kick was taken and led to goal in favour of Uzbekistan;
3) Before the penalty kick was carried out, an Uzbek player entered the penalty area;
4) Consequently, the referee awarded an indirect free kick to the Bahrain team;
5) However, in such a situation, the Laws of the Game require the referee to order the penalty kick to be retaken;
6) The captain of Uzbekistan team protested to the referee immediately after the mistake had taken place and before the game had restarted. This protest was confirmed after the match;
7) This technical error was confirmed by the match commissioner and the referee inspector in their respective reports;
8 ) Uzbekistan protested the decision of the referee in a written request, asking for the match to be “cancelled” and be evaluated with a 3-0 forfeit result;
While the Uzbekistani’s rather optimistic appeal to be awarded a 3-0 forfeit victory wasn’t upheld, the match was at least replayed after FIFA recognised that the referee’s technical error had explicitly altered the outcome of the match. Uzbekistan went on to lose the replay too I believe, but at least they were not ousted from the qualification process under a cloud of injustice and Bahrain were allowed to genuinely prove themselves the better side in this instance.
If we then consider the above process of deduction with regard to the incident between France and Ireland then, a similar argument can be made. The Irish must argue that in the above process there were a few key events: 1) an infirngement of the rules, 2) an incorrect decision on behalf of the referee, 3) an on-pitch appeal from the captain of one team before play had restarted and 4) the recording of the error in the post-match reports of match officials.
There is little doubt that numbers one and two can be applied to the France-Ireland incident, and there were certainly plenty of protests made by the Irish players – though whether they were made eloquently enough to have been deemed suitable by the match referee is perhaps questionable. And the fourth point is the least solid, although I think it’s fair to say that such a controversial moment would have been recorded somewhere by someone as I’m sure that officials are under instruction to record all major occurrences.
In some ways then, the same argument could be made by the Irish that saw Uzbekistan successfully have their match replayed. However, the real problem is that the incident in the Asian qualifier came down to a “technical error” – the official spotted the infringement and recognised it as being against the rules of the game, his mistake was in how he dealt with that infirngement, not his judgement of the offence itself. The Henry incident is actually quite different.
The problem for Ireland is that the referee in their match did not spot the incident at all and so his was an error of perceptio or of judgement, not a “technical error”. While TV replays have clearly shown that Henry did handle the ball, the referee at the time must have been under the impression that Henry had not handled the ball (unless there’s a conspiracy, which is a discussion for another day) and thus acted accordingly by allowing the goal. In dealing with the course of events that he perceived, the referee made no error, and so there are no real “technical” grounds for appeal.
Ireland’s only hope, as I see it, would be to argue that both incidents display an error in judgement. Of course the judgement of the referee in the Asian qualifier in regards the actual infirngement was correct, but they must attempt to convince FIFA that the referee made an error in judgement when awarding an indirect free-kick rather than a re-taken penalty. However, even if they can convince FIFA of that, they will also have to suggest that the officals in Paris should have been in a position to spot the infringement so that it wasn’t a failure of perception but of judgement, and that’s igh on impossible.
Overall then, I have little doubt that the Irish appeal will be unsuccessful. While they’ve certainly been resourceful in attempting to track down a precedent that may allow a replay, I think that unfortunately the two incidents are fundamentally different enough to allow FIFA a bit of wriggle room to deny any appeal for a replay. That’s certainly a shame, as I mentioned yesterday, the Irish were the worthy winners, but ultimately I think it’s best for football that the game isn’t replayed.
While I certainly believe that the Irish have been gard done by and the romantic in me would love to see a replay of the game (what a bloodbath that would be though, just imagine!), I think that if FIFA were to order a replay it would set a hugely dangerous precedent for football as a whole. The key thing is that the error occurred in part because of the despicable dishonesty of a certain Frenchman, but mainly because of the failure of the referee to spot the incident.
If the game was to be replayed because of that, then in future any game whose outcome could be shown to have been affected by the failure of a referee to correctly identify an infringement would have serious grounds for being replayed. But realistically, in every match played in the world any referee is likely to make at least one or two mistakes and many, many of these will ultimately affect the outcome. It’s unfortunate, but is simply a truth we have to accept.
Referees are only human after all, and none of us are infallible in our perceptions and judgements. We all make mistakes, in fact, that’s part of what makes us human in many respects, and so while we demand that referees perform to the best of their ability, demanding perfection from them would be completely unreasonable. To attempt to achieve perfection through the replaying of matches would be ludicrous – we’d be forever replaying matches and would doubtless end up have long series of replays of replays, which also suffered from some error or other.
Ultimately, the only way to keep things sensible is to continue to do what FIFA have always done, and leave it up to the referee on the pitch. Everyone will see the game in a slightly different way, and ultimately the one that matters is the one who is put in charge of the game. As long as he runs the game according to the rules to the best of his ability then that has to be good enough for us – unless we want to strive for perfection via the introduction of video replay technology – but that’s a discussion for Part Two!
For now then, I think we must conclude that although the ‘fairy tale potential’ afforeded by the idea of a replay of Wednesday’s match is great indeed, it would ultimately do more harm than good for the game as a whole and shouldn’t happen, no matter how unjust the fact that Ireland must miss out. Having looked at the Irish grounds for appeal, I’m pretty sure that the appeal will be rejected and so hard as it may be for them, the irish fans must come to terms with the fact that they won’t be in South Africa.
My advice to them, get out and buy an England shirt, and lets hope we can dish out some justice to those cheating Frenchies for you…
That’s all for Part One, tune back for Part Two over the coming days…
Have your say:
What’s your view on the Irish appeal? Do they have a chance? And would a replay actually do more harm than good to the game as a whole? Have your say by leaving a comment below…